Firebox (Hartford, CT)

(Update: Unfortunately, due to business uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, Firebox closed permanently in June 2020. In 2022, the restaurant re-opened as the similar concept Fire by Forge, which I plan to visit at some point soon.)

Last month, after a day spent with friends in Connecticut, since we were already in the Hartford area, we decided it was a good opportunity to stop and check out the local food scene. Our destination was the old Billings Forge complex, a rather large red brick Romanesque Revival industrial complex that originally held the Billings and Spenser company (inventors of the modern drop forge process, and the Spencer Repeating Rifle). Since the mid-20th century, most of the complex has been housing, original a housing project, and then more recently redeveloped as a mixed income complex. But parts of the complex retained their industrial nature for decades, only recently getting converted to other uses, in this case, two restaurants owned by the community trust that developed the building: The Kitchen (now closed) which provided a light cafe and job training, and Firebox, a local restaurant focusing on farm-to-table cuisine showcasing central Connecticut farms. We decided after reviewing menus to catch a late lunch at Firebox.

Firebox is an airy and well-renovated and welcoming space. I basically has three different dining rooms wrapped around a kitchen: a large front dining room with an elaborate bar, a side dining room, and a large rear dining room featuring several large wine racks. Seated in the rear dining room by the windows, we perused a brunch menu that had a nice selection of seasonal dishes including locally-source steak and eggs, several Benedicts, burgers, and scrambles, as well as a nice list of shares and sides.

Their impressive cocktail list is also supplemented with some brunch cocktails, including a trio of “Bloody Delicious” bloody Mary knockoffs made with their (very spicy) house mix and made with cucumber vodka, jalapeno-infused tequila, or mezcal. Carol and I both opted for the tequila version (basically a “Bloody Maria”), and it was very well-executed and aromatic brunch cocktail.

Next was the hummus plate, an ample portion of a smoked fennel hummus served with pita bread, pickled vegetables, and Marconi almonds. This was quite the appetizer, with the hummus itself having a nice combination of creamy chickpea, smoky and herbal fennel, and piquant garlic notes. Add in some good house-picked vegetables and some lightly-infused olive oil, and this was quite the plate of hummus for the 9 dollar charge. I’d happily get this as a side if I was coming in just for cocktails.

We both wanted a bit of bacon, so we also ordered a side of honey-sriracha bacon. This wasn’t anything fancy, doing what it said on the tin: an ample pile (at least eight strips) of perfectly crisped, thick local bacon with a light honey-sriracha drizzle on it. Heavy, but flavorful.

I opted for the chorizo scramble. A basic scramble of eggs, chorizo, jalapeno, onion, and bits of crispy tortilla, this wasn’t anything fancy, but it was well-executed; the egg cooked nicely, the chorizo nicely seared with a good bite, the tortillas maintaining a good crisp, and the overall dish keeping the flavors fresh and not muddled. Another winner.

Carol’s Benedict was made with the same bacon as the appetizer, served up on brioche with Hollandaise and a nice salad, and the overall result was a pleasant, slightly lighter take on the classic Benedict, and quite enjoyable.

Overall, I really enjoyed Firebox. The food was good, the cocktails delicious, and the prices quite reasonable for the quality. That, and it’s really nice to see the community development here; Firebox is a scant half mile from downtown Hartford in one of the area’s more depressed areas, and it (and the surrounding development of the Billings Forge complex) have definitely improved the neighborhood a bit. And the showcasing of local Connecticut producers is quite pleasant as well. I’ll definitely keep it on my short list for a return visit.

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